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Eight Below

Eight Below is a film about survival in a place where nothing stays alive for long.
The film takes place at the bottom of the world – Antarctica. “Any further south and you’d fall off the Earth,” cartographer Cooper (Jason Biggs) says. There’s a reason no one lives in Antarctica, a reason why not even Wal-Mart would touch this wasteland – it’s too much for the human mind to comprehend such nothingness.
Dr. Davis McClaren (Bruce Greenwood) rolls into an arctic base as winter approaches with a plan to head north looking for space rocks. The ill-advised expedition to search for meteorites comes as the worst storm of the season pulls into the region, and the resident guide, Jerry Shepard (Paul Walker), isn’t thrilled about the trip.
But the pair leaves with a team of eight sled dogs. When they get to a barren mountain McClaren convinces Jerry to stay an extra few hours while he pokes around. After the doctor finds what he was looking for the team breaks camp and tries to head back to base before the storm overtakes them. A mishap leaves McClaren in a stretcher and Jerry snow-blind, and if not for the courage of the fearless crew, they would all be lost. But by the time the doctor, Jerry and the eight sled dogs are back the storm has overtaken the base, and there isn’t enough space to pack the pups.
Vowing to return to pick up the dogs, Jerry and his fellow homo sapiens leave the base, the dogs chained to a pole. Only after he wakes up in an infirmary after three days of unconsciousness does Jerry realize that he’s sentenced his four-legged friends to death.
The military officer in charge refuses to allow another plane to fly into the storm, and when he’s sent back to America Jerry goes knocking door to door looking for a way to rescue the dogs that have saved his life. He begs McClaren for help, appeals to politicians and commercial interests, even eventually flies back to Sidney, Australia, where he hopes to beg passage to the base on a fishing boat.    
Meanwhile the dogs face winter in Antarctica without a supply of Alpo or the benefit of a human to haul out water. They devise strategies for corralling seagulls – possibly the stupidest form of life on the planet – and somehow survive the bitter weather as screen credits give us a countdown of days they’ve spent alone.  
The dog pack offers a viable social arrangement, caring for its ill, working together instinctually, as though nature itself was pro-union. Dog life seems legitimate and authentic when measured against the slow-moving bureaucratic maneuvers of governments and universities.
A stunning visual film, Eight Below brings us to the dark side of the earth to show us the significance of life, be it canine or otherwise. A more blank canvas would be difficult to imagine, and there’s a quiet intensity to the dogs’ struggle for survival. The land swallows them up, making their fight against the elements appear simultaneously absurd and noble.
The eight left below stand in for all of us wandering above; all the beautiful, stupid, inane creatures of the world making our way between the two poles.

*Warning for parents*
Although it’s rated PG, it is difficult to understand if Eight Below is intended for children or adults.
The movie is too much for many kids –during my viewing children broke down in tears repeatedly and one unexpected Sea Lion attack will even find its ways into my dreams – but it is also a bit too soft for most adults. The innumerable implausible Lassie scenes are not enough to dull the emotional intensity of the movie, but they do strike a false note in an otherwise fine work of realism.  
There was a time when it was considered good parenting to expose children to harsh reality – when Phil Donahue recommended Blue Lagoon as sex education and kids were expected to attend funerals so they would understand mortality at a young age – but now it seems cruel to drag children into the adult world before they’re prepared for it, even if it’s filled with a little wonder.

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